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British sixpence coin


British sixpence coin

United Kingdom
Value 0.025 GBP
Mass 2.828 g
Diameter 19 mm
Thickness approx. 1 mm
Composition 1816-1919: 92.5% Ag
1920-1946: 50% Ag
1947-1967: Cupronickel
Years of minting 1551–1970

The sixpence, known colloquially as the tanner, or half-shilling, was a British pre-decimal coin, worth six (pre-1971) pence (written as "6d") or 1/40th of a pound sterling.


In England, the first sixpences were struck in the reign of Edward VI in 1551 and continued until they were rendered obsolete by decimalisation in 1971. Along with the shilling (12 pence) and the florin (2 shillings), the last general issue sixpence was issued in 1967. A special proof version was struck for inclusion in the farewell proof set of 1970. Sixpences continued to be legal tender with a value of 2½ new pence until 30 June 1980. The shilling and the florin (two shillings) continued to be legal tender until the sizes of the 5 and 10 pence coins were reduced in 1990 and 1992 respectively.

After the Great Recoinage of 1816, the mint coined each troy pound (weighing 5760 grains) of standard (0.925 fine) silver into 66 shillings, or the equivalent in other denominations. This set the weight of the sixpence at 43.636 grains or 2.828 grams from 1816 until the last striking in 1970.

The silver content followed the pattern of other silver coins. They were sterling silver until 1919 and were reduced to 50 percent silver from 1920. The last 50% silver sixpence was minted in 1946; they were changed to 79% copper, 20% zinc, 1% nickel, also known as cupro-nickel, from 1947 onwards.

Cultural significance

As the supply of silver threepence coins slowly disappeared, sixpences replaced them as the coins put into Christmas puddings; children would hope to be the lucky one to find the sixpence, no doubt also encouraging them to eat more pudding.

They have also been seen as a lucky charm for brides. There is an old rhyme which goes "Something old, something new / Something borrowed, something blue / And a sixpence for her (left) shoe."

They are also used as a good luck charm by Royal Air Force aircrew who have them sewn behind their wings or brevets, a custom dating back to the Second World War.

In A Midsummer Night's Dream (Act 4, Scene 2), we learn that by his absence (ensorcelled in Titania's bower), Bottom the Weaver will forgo sixpence a day for life from the Duke. In Elizabethan times, six pence was roughly a day's wage for rustic labour in the provinces. With it, one might buy two dinners, six performances of Hamlet among the groundlings at the Globe Theatre, or an unbound copy of the play itself.

"I've Got Sixpence" a traditional song, runs:

I've got sixpence. Jolly, jolly sixpence.
I've got sixpence to last me all my life.
I've got twopence to spend and twopence to lend
And twopence to send home to my wife.[1]

An elaborated version was published in 1941, words and music by Elton Box & Desmond Cox.:[2] the singer tells the tale of spending twopence (per verse) until he has "no-pence to send home to my wife - poor wife."

Brian May, guitarist from the British band Queen, uses a sixpence instead of a normal plectrum to play his guitar.[3]

Sixpence None the Richer (also known as Sixpence) is an American rock/pop band whose name was inspired by a passage from the book Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.

See also


External links

  • British Coins
  • The History of the Sixpence

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